Prescribed fire near Naches, WA in September, 2016. Photo: Shawn Gust, Yakima Herald-Republic
"All the models predict that we are going to have a lot more fire, even if we put a lot more resources into suppression, so we’re going to have a lot more smoke,” Reese Lolley, Chair of the Washington Prescribed Fire Council, said. “We’re going to have fire in our forests, the question is how do you want your smoke?”
Mr. Lolley is one of several prescribed fire proponents quoted in a recent article about the Forest Resiliency Burning Pilot in Washington State. Also known as Washington House Bill 2928, the state legislature passed the bill to examine the use of prescribed fire to reduce the catastrophic effects of wildfire in the future. The effort is aimed at expanding the use of prescribed fire and addressing its limitations: smoke impacts, complicated planning and costs. The goal of the Pilot is to learn from previous fires and reduce the fuel available on 11,000 acres for the next fire.
"We are trying to get fire-adapted landscapes like this to a point that they can accept fire and not have it be catastrophic," said Naches Ranger District Fuel Technician Jason Emhoff.
The Pilot is attempting to make it easier for prescribed burn plans to get the go-ahead form air quality officials who want to ensure the weather favors smoke dispersal, a tough sell in the past. With support from Washington State legislators, fuels managers are looking for ways to use prescribed fire on landscapes without impacting communities that are sensitive to smoke.
Smoke regulations have long been the limiting factor for prescribed fire because they create plenty of smoke. So, as Mr. Lolley asks, "How do you want your smoke?" The smoke from prescribed fire may be visible and cause an impact for a few days whereas smoke from a wildfire event may be intrusive for weeks and months.
The Forest Resiliency Burning Pilot hopes to change the misperception about fire as the enemy and raise community support for more prescribed fire being used as a tool in the future.